What is a Special Grand Jury?

Page Pate explains special grand juries under Georgia law and how they are different from regular grand juries


What is a special grand jury? In Georgia, a special grand jury is a type of grand jury that is allowed to hear witness testimony, issue subpoenas for witnesses or documents to investigate a case that’s usually a little more complicated than a simple case that’s brought before a regular grand jury.

The district attorney in Fulton County has just requested that the chief judge of Fulton County set up a special grand jury to investigate former President Trump’s attempt to potentially interfere with the election in Georgia. The reason the district attorney gave is that some of the witnesses she would like to talk to are unwilling to cooperate and may need to be subpoenaed.

Now, a special grand jury cannot indict someone, they cannot charge someone. All they can do is issue subpoenas, take testimony, consider evidence, and then potentially give a recommendation either to the judge or the district attorney about bringing charges against a particular defendant.

If this special grand jury is approved, if it is in panel, it will hear this evidence, it will issue the subpoenas at the direction of the DA’s office and could, at the conclusion of its work, request that the district attorney prosecute former President Trump and anyone else that it believes may have been involved in criminal conduct.

Now, there is no set time for the grand jury and a special grand jury to do its work. It can go longer than a normal grand jury. It can take however long it needs to investigate the issue, the people, the circumstances within its scope.

Now, a special grand jury is similar to a regular grand jury in Georgia to the extent that it’s made up just of regular citizens of the county who are told to come in with a grand jury summons to listen to the evidence. Usually, about 16 to 23 people, I think that’s what the statute requires, you have to have a majority for any decision or, in this case, any recommendation to be made. But the grand jury really serves though, both the special and a regular grand jury at the direction of the district attorney’s office.

So it is not a situation where former President Trump will be able to present witnesses, or present his case, or testify. He cannot have any lawyers present in the grand jury room while they’re considering testimony. But if they do issue subpoenas, then it is possible that former President Trump and lawyers working on his behalf could try to object to those subpoenas, which could take some additional time.

This does not indicate that the investigation in Fulton County is close to being over, but it also doesn’t suggest it’s just starting. The district attorney in Fulton County began this investigation, or at least announced it about a year ago. So we know, at this point, the district attorney’s office has likely gathered a sufficient amount of information presumably enough to convince the judge in Fulton County to go ahead and set up the special grand jury.

Special grand juries are unusual in Georgia. Most cases are simply presented to a regular grand jury. They can also subpoena documents, they can certainly listen to witness testimony, but they have a lot of other cases to consider. And usually they can only meet for a certain period of time, which is pretty limited when you’re supposed to be looking into potentially a complicated case, a case that involves maybe additional documentary evidence, phone calls, we know they’ll be evidence of that. So a special grand jury allows a DA to take his or her time to investigate more complicated cases.


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